View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rossie Harris and Peter Graves in Airplane! (Photo: Paramount)
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
AIRPLANE! (1980). Since 1977’s hilarious The Kentucky Fried Movie wasn’t a box office hit upon its original release (its reputation was made on the midnight movie circuit), this subsequent picture by the comedy team of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker (aka ZAZ) was the one that basically rewrote the rules of screen comedy. With its endless succession of movie parodies, puns and non sequiturs, it’s the closest that cinema has ever seen to a live-action interpretation of Mad magazine. The film’s blazing humor may have been slightly tempered by endless attempts over the years to capitalize on its success (The Naked Gun being the best of the imitators), yet it retains its winning charm. Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty essay the leading roles as the passenger and flight attendant who must land a crippled aircraft after the cockpit crew contracts food poisoning, and L.A. Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is amusing as the co-pilot who insists he’s not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Yet it’s the wily veterans — Leslie Nielsen (“Don’t call me Shirley”), Lloyd Bridges (“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue”), Robert Stack (“Flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle, just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes”), and Peter Graves (“You ever seen a grown man naked?”) — who prove to be the MVPs.
Airplane! has been reissued as part of the Paramount Presents line. Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by ZAZ and producer Jon Davison; a Q&A with ZAZ; and an isolated score.
CLUELESS (1995). Writer-director Amy Heckerling’s modern take on Jane Austen’s Emma continues to hold up extremely well over time, with subsequent viewings proving to be as enjoyable as the initial one. Sassy, smart and highly quotable, the film centers on the life of a pampered Beverly Hills high school student named Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and how her carefully structured life starts getting messy once her mind becomes flooded with romantic aspirations. The cast is packed with then-rising young talents — Paul Rudd, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, the late Brittany Murphy — and they all carve out distinct and memorable characterizations. In her star-making performance as the “hymenally challenged” Cher, Silverstone is an absolute delight, although it’s veteran Dan Hedaya who steals the show as her gruff father, a lawyer who informs one of her dates (Justin Walker) that if “anything happens to my daughter, I have a .45 and a shovel; I doubt anybody would miss you.”
Paramount has released Clueless in a new 25th Anniversary Blu-ray steelbook edition. Extras (all brought over from an earlier Blu-ray version) include a making-of featurette; a “Clue or False” trivia game; pieces on the casting, the costumes, and the slang; a tutorial on the Suck ‘N Blow game seen in the film; and theatrical trailers.
EYE SEE YOU (2002). This Sylvester Stallone starrer is one of those films that sat so long on the studio shelf that a maid had to periodically drop by to sweep off the cobwebs. Filmed in 1999, this thriller (based on Howard Swindle’s novel Jitter Joint) had to contend with test-audience interference, studio interference, and (reportedly) Sly interference before Universal suits finally threw up their hands and tossed it aside, eventually selling it to DEJ Productions. Even with all this behind-the-scenes drama, this isn’t the worst film to crib a page or 12 from Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (no, that would be an actual adaptation of Ten Little Indians, the one reviewed here). Its set-up is sturdy enough, as FBI agent Jake Malloy (Stallone), boozy and suicidal after a serial killer has slain his fiancée as well as several cops, is sent by his concerned colleague (Charles S. Dutton) to a remote rehab center run by a sympathetic doctor (Kris Kristofferson). It’s soon apparent, though, that the killer is among the assembled. The setting is inspired and the cast is impressive (Tom Berenger, Jeffrey Wright, Polly Walker, Roberts Patrick and Prosky), but the film grows more ludicrous as it unspools, culminating in an obvious villain and a weak denouement.
The most noteworthy bonus feature on the MVD Marquee Collection edition is the never-before-seen Detox (aka D-Tox), which was director Jim Gillespie’s original version of the film before all the tinkering. Other Blu-ray extras include interviews with various cast members; deleted scenes; and the theatrical trailer.
MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID (1952). Esther Williams, cinema’s singular swimming sensation, landed one of her best roles in this biopic about aquatic Australian star Annette Kellerman. Raised by a loving father (Walter Pidgeon) who hopes his daughter will follow him into the world of music, Annette instead finds herself perpetually drawn to the water. It’s only after they move from Australia to England — and meet brash American promoter James Sullivan (Victor Mature) along the way — that she’s able to parlay her swimming skills into something resembling a career. Her stunt of swimming 26 miles down the River Thames earns her fans, but she creates a scandal in America (Boston, to be precise) when she dares to wear a revealing one-piece suit that leaves the locals clutching their pearls. Williams doesn’t generate much chemistry with either of the men playing her suitors (Mature and David Brian as the manager of New York’s famous Hippodrome Theatre), but her character’s romantic entanglement is the least involving portion of the film anyway — far more interesting is tracking the evolution of Annette’s career. There’s an astonishing musical number (set in water, natch) choreographed by Busby Berkeley; Mel Brooks fans will instantly recognize it as one of the key inspirations for a portion of “The Inquisition” sketch in 1981’s History of the World — Part I. George J. Folsey deservedly scored an Oscar nomination for Best Color Cinematography — his Technicolor compositions are aces.
Blu-ray extras include the 1952 live-action short Reducing; the 1952 cartoon The Wise Little Quacker; and the theatrical trailer.
THE PUBLIC EYE (1992). The Public Eye is the sort of film that frankly never had any chance of becoming a financial success (it grossed a paltry $3 million against a $15 million budget), yet it’s good enough that we’re thankful the studio elected to waste money on it anyway. Taking the life (or, more accurately, the career) of famed crime-scene photographer Weegee as its inspiration, this finds Joe Pesci delivering his most restrained performance as Leon “Bernzy” Bernstein, a ‘40s-era photographer who was always the first on the scene of every unpleasant after-hours activity (fires, accidents, and many murders), thus being able to sell his pictures to the tabloids well before his rival shutterbugs even finished processing their film. Knowing as many crooks as cops, Bernzy never allows himself to take sides or become personally involved, but that changes after beautiful nightclub owner Kay Levitz (Barbara Hershey) asks him to do her a favor. Clearly smitten, the lonely cameraman agrees, only to find himself entangled in an elaborate scheme involving feuding mobsters and wartime rationing. The knotty plot and the “beauty and the beast” theme (someone even compares Bernzy and Kay to Quasimodo and Esmeralda) both maintain interest, although the key selling points are Pesci’s excellent turn and a dynamic visual look overseen by writer-director Howard Franklin.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Franklin and film historian Daniel Kremer, and the theatrical trailer.
RESISTANCE (2020). During his lifetime, Marcel Marceau (born Marcel Mangel) was acknowledged as the world’s most famous and beloved mime, but not as known was his earlier efforts during World War II. Resistance seeks to shed some light on that subject, as it shows how the Jewish Marcel (played by Jesse Eisenberg), initially depicted as a self-centered young man, soon transforms into an unlikely hero once he joins the French Resistance. Marcel becomes a figure of strength not by fighting the Nazis with guns and explosives but by helping to take care of Jewish children left orphaned by the war. Already interested in mime, he uses his talents to keep the kids entertained before smuggling them into Switzerland. A tense and unsettling drama, Resistance also places another historical figure at the forefront: Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer), the sadistic Gestapo torturer who was personally responsible for the suffering and deaths of thousands of men, women and children. On a sidenote, it would be nice to learn that the “Butcher of Lyon” was executed immediately after the war; instead, Barbie was hired as an agent by the United States government to help combat communism. Speaking of the U.S., those who believe history repeats itself will find suitable subtext that nicely ties into Trump’s AmeriKKKa, particularly when a Jewish character, describing Hitler’s influence on his deplorable followers, huffs at his “populist talk so that idiots can rage with euphoria and feel better about their miserable lives.”
Blu-ray extras include the theatrical trailer.
THE RIVER (1984). Of the three “save the farm” films that all appeared on the scene in 1984, The River places a distant third behind the superb Places in the Heart (see the Best & Worst Films of 1984 here) and the solid Country (reviewed here). Sissy Spacek and Mel Gibson star as Mae and Tom Garvey, a hard-luck Tennessee couple who must battle (take a deep breath) 1) Mother Nature (particularly the raging waters routinely saturating their land); 2) a bank that informs them their debts are worth more than the farm itself; 3) farm equipment that keeps breaking down; and 4) a local entrepreneur (Scott Glenn) who wants their land so he can build a dam that will provide cheap energy and hundreds of jobs to the region (wait, he’s the villain?). Spacek is right at home on the farm while a miscast Gibson was more at home in Mad Max’s post-apocalyptic terrain. The optimistic closing scene, which seems to have been tacked on to the rest of this otherwise downbeat picture with a piece of Scotch tape, is a shameless cop-out. Nominated for four Academy Awards — Best Actress (Spacek), Cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond, who makes the harsh landscape too pretty; his slot should have gone to Places in the Heart’s Nestor Almendros), Original Score (John Williams), and Sound — The River won a Special Achievement Award for Best Sound Effects Editing.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historians Daniel Kremer and Nat Segaloff, and the theatrical trailer.
THIRTEEN GHOSTS (2001). Second verse, same as the first. Those responsible for the dreary 1999 remake (reviewed here) of William Castle’s nifty 1958 chiller House on Haunted House — specifically, Dark Castle Entertainment and producers Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis and Gilbert Adler — figured they might as well trash Castle’s engaging 1960 opus Thirteen Ghosts in similar fashion. This one is definitely an improvement over the Haunted Hill redo, but whereas both Ghosts find characters donning special glasses to be able to see the specters, only the remake will lead viewers to wish they had special goggles that would allow them to see a different movie instead. F. Murray Abraham portrays Cyrus Kriticos, a ghostbuster whose untimely demise results in his relative Arthur (Tony Shalhoub) inheriting his one-of-a-kind mansion, a glass edifice swathed in Latin pronouncements. It’s up to Dennis (Matthew Lillard), a looney-tunes psychic who was Cyrus’s assistant, to inform Arthur, his teenage daughter Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth), his young son Bobby (Alec Roberts), and their nanny Maggie (rapper Rah Digga in her only film to date) that Cyrus has a dozen violent ghosts trapped inside the house. The home and its attendant spirits are imaginatively designed, but they can’t compete against the insufferable, nails-on-the-chalkboard characters portrayed by Lillard, Roberts and especially Rah Digga.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Steve Beck; a making-of featurette; new interviews with Elizabeth and Adler; a piece on the ghosts seen in the film; and the theatrical trailer.
WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL (2019). While Roger Ebert might reign as the most famous of all film critics, Pauline Kael rules as the most influential. She was a superb writer (I own several of her books…) who could frustrate with her biases (…that I usually can only read bits at a time), and Ebert’s quote that she was “the most powerful, loved and hated film critic of her time” is accurate. This documentary feels at once overstuffed and undernourished, but it provides a fairly detailed glimpse at a trailblazing reviewer who’s far removed from today’s YouTube critical clowns who couldn’t tell you the difference between Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton even if you spotted them the funny mustache. Through new interviews and archival footage, various folks offer their opinions on Kael, with all noting her phenomenal power in championing certain films and filmmakers (Bonnie and Clyde, Last Tango in Paris, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma) but some offended at her perceived cruelty and hypocrisies (she stated that a critic without his or her own opinion is worthless, but she used her status to regularly bully smaller critics, known as “Paulettes,” into agreeing with her opinions). The movie’s primary strength is in showing how she had to compete in a male-dominated industry and won — a suitable victory for someone who once hilariously wrote that a particularly animated Jack Nicholson performance was “a commercial for cunnilingus.”
DVD extras include deleted scenes; excerpts from interviews with Quentin Tarantino and Paul Schrader; and an excerpt from Kael’s never-aired interview with Alfred Hitchcock.
THE WIND (1986). The lovely Greek scenery is the only positive in this dreadful thriller that features Wings Hauser playing a crazy killer for the umpteenth time. Meg Foster stars as Sian Anderson, an author who travels to the island of Monemvasia to write her latest mystery in peace. Instead, she finds herself pinned down by the swirling winds that blast through her isolated villa — a problem since the only other person around happens to be a murderous lunatic. The lack of spatial clarity annihilates any chance of suspense, and the amount of padding in the film (what’s up with those bickering newlyweds?) is enough to fill a dozen mattresses. David McCallum appears as Sian’s boyfriend back in Los Angeles (I love how he relaxes in his swimming pool even though he knows his lady love is being stalked by a madman approximately 7,000 miles away) while Steve Railsback appears late in the game as a sailor who seeks to rescue Sian but turns out to be rather useless; both actors are wasted, although Robert Morley has fun in his brief turn as a persnickety landlord. The Wind would mark an early screen credit for composer Hans Zimmer, who would go on to win an Oscar for The Lion King and rack up numerous more nods for the likes of Gladiator and Inception.
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with writer-director Nico Mastorakis; the alternate opening credits for Edge of Terror (the film’s name in the U.K.); an isolated track of the score by Zimmer and Stanley Myers; image galleries; and trailers for various Mastorakis movies.